Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes
© 2017 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Class THEFT-4/Nimrod the Tyrant and his Babylonian Tower
”Let’s build a city”
We are learning about Noah’s Fourth Commandment, THEFT. Before the Flood, THEFT was committed on individual level, like by Tubal Cain’s s gangues who roamed the streets at will. Now the Torah takes us from Noah to Abraham’s generation, where THEFT was performed in a largescale unknown before, by armies and states and Empires, whose sole purpose was to invade each other borders, grab territories and abduct manpower for SLAVERY. This ORGENIZED THEFT came along gradually, beginning with Noah degradation, his curse on Canaan, making him a slave to a slave, then the rise and fall of Nimrod’s Tower.
From Democracy to Tyranny
As the Torah says, the beginning of Nimrod’s Kingdom was Babel (Genesis 10:10) inferring that later he became the ruler of Earth.
Moreover, at the beginning he was a ‘king,’ a benevolent ruler who ruled by the art of consultation (as the Hebrew word for king, melech, means.) Later he became a dictator who consulted no one.
How did his dream society, the envy of the UN, turn into an oppressive, ruthless tyranny, without lifting a sword? The question is important, since it may happen again to us, to our generation. We too can degenerate into tyranny by a charismatic leader.
1: The impact of the new brick technology
King Nimrod could have remained a benevolent, ‘democratic’ ruler forever, had not a new technology of brick making changed his society forever; as it is said:
“And it came to pass as they journeyed from the east
That they found a plain in the land of Shinaar and they dwelled there.
And they said to one another come, let’s make bricks and burn for a fire
And the brick served them as stone and the mortar served them as clay…” (Genesis 11: 1-3)
We are very familiar with how new technology can impact society. The industrial revolution changes the social and political structure of the world.
This is exactly what happened to Nimrod’s society.
The Torah tells us that they discovered a new way to make bricks. This prompted a wave of building cities and walls and towers. Archeology confirm a massive buildup in 2500 BC, first in Mesopotamia then in Egypt. This massive buildup was done NOT by slaves, but rather by free young farmers, who left their farms to join the new building-projects in the cities.
Those young volunteers, Archeology shows, used to spend several months on the building projects, where they enjoyed good food, good company and excellent entertainment they could not have back at home. They were thrilled to participate in a project bigger than their own family farms.
Moreover, on the building projects they met other young people from all over the country and exchange with them ideas and share with them new experiences. On the project they developed the sense of belonging to a LARGE ORGANIZATION, more powerful than their own farms at home. Scholars say that these huge building projects installed the notion of a big country, and also drastically changed the social structure.
The most important point in the story is that the workers were thrilled and proud to belong to a larger organization. King Nimrod, the master of listening to the human heart, took a note of this.
2: Let’s see Earth from above
“And they said: Come! Let us build for ourselves
A city and a tower whose top shall reach the sky
And let us make a name for ourselves
Lest we be scattered all over the face of the whole Earth.” (Genesis 11:4)
The verse emphasize that workers wished to participate in the building projects “for ourselves,” for their own sake. King Nimrod, the mater of listening, answered their wish and offered them increasingly larger building projects. Seeing that the workers became even more proud and happy, he made the buildings taller and larger.
“…A city and a tower whose top shall reach the sky” It was King Nimrod who planted the idea of the Tower in their minds. He told them: ‘I’ve seen the Earth from above! Now I want everyone to have the same experience! Let us make a Tower that his top will reach the sky. From there everyone would see what I have seen!”
3: Let us make a name for ourselves
“And let us make a name for ourselves
Lest we be scattered all over the face of the whole Earth…”(Genesis 11: 4)
King Nimrod discovered their lust for fame
The secret of their thrill, King Nimrod discovered, was the opportunity to make names for themselves. On the project, they could climb up in rank, fame, titles, honor; something they could not have back on their farms. King Nimrod saw this, and took advantage of it.
Thrill of Specialization
“Let us make a name for ourselves” Like in any large organization, the building-project required specialization. One worker excelled in making bricks, the other in setting the scaffolds and others in cooking and so on. Becoming a ‘specialist’ made one proud; and adding a title to one’s name increased his social status.
The thrill of hierarchy
Hence, the Tower introduced a new social hierarchy: simple workers at the bottom, managers above them, big supervisors and those who supervised the supervisors above them all. King Nimrod found himself at its pinnacle. Yet, brotherhood still prevailed. They were united in pursuing the goal of building the Tower which would reach the sky, from where everyone would see the entire Earth. THE PROJECT WOULD BENEFIT EVERYONE, so said Nimrod, the master of listening to the human heart.
Some commentaries say that the goal of the Tower was IDOLATRY, to fight G-d in Heavens. As we’ll see, this indeed took place later in the story.
A name on the bricks
“Let us make a name for ourselves a name.” King Nimrod endowed the workers with the right to “make a name for themselves” by engraving it on a brick, on a corridor, on an entire floor or a whole wing, pending on the RANK. This established the builder’s fame for generations.
How big was the Tower?
“Let us build a tower whose head is in the sky…” We do not know the real size of the Tower. Tradition says that is was PLALNNED to be a 27x27 square miles base, reaching 27 miles height (Midrash). It might be an exaggeration, but the idea is that the Tower was indeed a massive undertaking, on a scale unknown to Mankind before or after. It required thousands and thousands of workers, and would have taken hundreds of years to accomplish. Successive waves of workers came and gone on the project. A whole new culture developed around it. Songs were composed to its glory and stories of heroism were told from fathers to sons.
Industry around the Tower
We can imagine the great impact that the Tower had on the economy. The workers needed to ORGANIZE food, clothing, shelter and other services, even entertainment on a large scale. An evidence for that is seen in the archeological findings around the Egyptian Pyramids. The Tower of Babel, like the Egyptian Pyramids, prompted the building of entire industries around it. This created wealth and a power, especially for those who set at the top, like King Nimrod.
Nimrod the godlike tyrant
Gradually, even unintentionally, King Nimrod’s status became divine. To the workers at the bottom of the hierarchy he seemed unreachable, concealed by an army of subordinates. His words became the law. No one challenged his authority. The economic boom affected everyone, and they were all proud and happy to belong to such an important, national endeavor.
The Tower as a metaphor for our economy structure
The Tower presents a metaphor for any economic activities.
Our economic activity resembles a rotating circle, where products and services move in one direction from hand to hand, and money and compensation move in the opposite direction.
We enlarge the circle by forever introducing new products and services. The money keeps flowing in the opposite direction, allowing the establishing of new circles on top. This way the economic Tower always grows wider and taller. This way we erect a tower of wealth.
Successful the Tower Project was, but it enraged YHVH, as it is said:
4: YHVH response to the Tower
“And YHVH came down to see the city and the Tower
which the Children of Adam were building.” (Genesis 11:5)
YHVH and Her Court came down
The phrase “And YHVH…” infers ‘YHVH AND Her Court’ (Rashi.) The rabbis derived from here that a human court should also ‘go down’ to the crime scene, to be impressed firsthand.
What constitutes “YHVH’s Court?” This could be the Angels. But the best explanation is: YHVH assessed the Tower by Her yardstick. As we remember, in Her Domain, the Eternal Sabbath, YHVH does not judge or assesses. But in our world, participating in the Heavenly Court, YHVH agreed to join ELKM and assess Mankind by Her features, that are different from ELKM’s features.
In YHVH eyes, Man is either evil, or beloved; pending on whether he is cruel and indifferent to suffering.
What did YHVH and Her Court see in the Tower?
Tradition says, that the building project became increasingly more HEARTLESS and MERCILESS.
As the Tower grew taller, so did the risk of accidents. The Tower toppled three times, once down to its basement (Midrash.) Workers were injured or killed on a daily basis. Working on the project became increasingly more hazardous. The Tower lacked a safety net, and YHVH hated it.
But despite of the increasing risks, Nimrod pushed harder to finish the Tower at all cost. A new war-like mentality and vocabulary settled in. The workers told each other: ‘Let us conquer that floor,’ or ‘let’s overcome nature.’ Hence Nimrod’s name assumed a new meaning of “Let Us Rebel Against Nature. This military frame of mind elevated Nimrod’s status even higher, up to the sky.
5: Nimrod, let’s rebel against the Merciful YHVH!
As the Tower grew taller, the organization became so supreme that the individual life became dispensable. So when a worker fell to the ground holding a brick, his fellow workers lamented the lost brick rather than their comrade (Midrash.) Indifference to the human life prevailed, turning into sheer cruelty for the sake of the project; enraging the Merciful YHVH. Nimrod’s name assumed a new meaning of “Let Us Rebel Against YHVH.”
The more the Tower arose, so did Nimrod’s ego. The old democratic ruler was gone, replaced by an arrogant dictator that saw himself as god like. This enraged YHVH even more, since “YHVH and an arrogant person can’t dwell in the same room,” as we’ve learned.
Note that so far Nimrod did NOT violate any Law of ELKM. He did not worship idols, he did not commit ADULTERY, BLOODSHED, THEFT or INJUSTICE. His arrogance, and his indifference to human suffering enraged YHVH only.
6: The Heavenly Court’s Decision
“And YHVH said: Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language,
And now nothing will be withheld from them to do
That which they have schemed to do. (Genesis 11: 6)
Any heartless organization can achieve those goals
YHVH acknowledges that any selfish, Indifferent and Heartless human organization CAN achieve any financial or political goal it has set for itself, no matter how high.
Indeed, we live in ELoKiM’s world, that is NOT based on MERCY, COMPASSION or FORGIVENESS. In ELKM’s world, the strongest creature prevails. A corporation or a society that has set for itself an economic goal, CAN reach it by following the Laws of the Jungle. This can be done without violating any Law of THEFT or INJUSTICE. And yet, if the Corporation or society ignores YHVH’s values, it would face Her rage. And we should know that no one can withstand Her rage!
7: YHVH disrupted Nimrod’s Communication skills
How did YHVH destroy Nimrod’s power? Later in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, She reacted by showering on them fire and brimstones. She overturned them, literally.
But here she reacted differently, as it says:
“And YHVH said, come, let’s go down, and there confound their language
that they may not understand one another speech…”
Assessing Nimrod, acting in the Heavenly Court, YHVH reacted to him “measure for measure.” Since he had ascent to power by his communication skills, She would disrupt those very skills.
It happened in steps: At first, YHVH ‘confused’ the workers’ language so that they could not comprehend one another. One would ask for a hammer and get waters instead. Or one would ask for a brick and get wood, and so forth. The workers were confused.
Secondly, when they came to Nimrod, complaining, he did not comprehend their words. He tried to answered them, saying something to them, but they did not comprehend him. King Kush’s nightmare became true.
“So YHVH scattered them abroad, from there upon the face of the Earth
And they ceased to build the city, therefore is the name of it called Babel,
Because YHVH did there confound the language of all the Earth,
And from thence did YHVH scatter them abroad upon the face of the whole Earth” (Genesis 11: 8-9)
The old sense of brotherhood dissipated. If the purpose of the Tower was to organize humanity around one project, here came YHVH and blew it up. It will take a whole history to reach that sense of brotherhood again!
The world after the Tower
The Tower toppled, the people dispersed, yet the memories of King Nimrod survived. Mankind became aware of the power of a large organization. Mankind discovered the magic of receiving a RANK. Society would never again be the same. (see Karen Armstrong’s books.)
People tried to emulate Nimrod
After Nimrod, others tyrants came to power and tried to build their own cities, towers and organizations. They tried to emulate Nimrod and preserve his pyramidal structure of society. But whereas Nimrod did this by his rhetoric, the new leaders used oppressive police and the sword.
At first, say the scholars, the new royalties oppressed their own poor. They built their cities by forcing their own poor citizen.
But soon the new rulers discovered a better and easier way to accumulate wealth: invade other cities, enslave their people and use them to build their Tower.
Next phase, the scholars say, large Empires were consolidated, to conduct ORGANIZED THEFT efficiently. They raised huge armies that moved around into other countries, grabbing their territories and enslaving their citizen. A new economy evolved, based on ABDUCTION and SLAVERY. This was the world into which Abraham was born, ten generations after the Flood.
Here is a quotation from Karen Armstrong’s book named “Fields of Blood,” 2014:
Tyranny based on subjecting the poor and invading other lands
“The world’s first civilization was the federation of city-states in Mesopotamia. This fertile land was first settled in massive way around 4500 BCE. The settlers dig irrigation canals and ditches between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and used bricks for their homes, city walls and towers.
The first ruler who built a wall around the city to defend it from strong looters was Gilgamesh, the king of the Uruk, at 2750 BCE. He was an oppressive, cruel tyrant whose people complained bitterly about his unscrupulous exploitation of them. He forced the peasants of the city and their young men to work in the fields and build the wall. The society composed of many poor, spoiled peasants who worked for the few privileged ones, who took most of the agricultural products for themselves. This rigid social hierarchy is symbolized by the ziggurats, the giant stepped temples-towers that “reached the sky” where the workers remained locked at the bottom and the exalted aristocrats set at the apex (like Nimrod.)
“Gilgamesh also commissioned an army to invade other cities for the loot. He died in such a raid. His religion supported the oppressive hierarchy (in which “minor gods” worked the fields for the benefits of the “superior gods”.) Gilgamesh’ model of society was based on INTERNAL THEFT as well as EXTERNAL one.
THEFT by War
“Gilgamesh’s wall is a good evidence of WARS between CITY-STATES for ORGANIZED THEFT. From him onwards in history, raiding other cities became the “only noble way to acquire scares resources. War became a noble occupation of the aristocrats, justified by morality and religion. The quickest way to accumulate wealth was to invade other cities or nations, grab their territories and abduct their peoples for manual hard work.’ Forced Slavery was instituted.”
Having started in Mesopotamia, this new ‘pyramidal’ life style spread all over the inhabitant land. In 1900 BCE, when Abraham was born, large Empires were consolidated to conduct ORGANIZED THEFT in a large, efficient way. This became Abraham’s main struggle, as we’ll see.
Karen Armstrong also writes:
“The Aryans discovered that the easiest way to replace lost animals was to STEAL the cattle of a nearby village…“Aryans saw warfare superior to the tedious life in the cities…The Aryan religion gave supreme sanction to what was essentially ORGENIZED VIOLENCE and THEFT. Their mythology said that all cattle, the measure of wealth in those days, belonged to the Aryans and that others have no right to those resources…
“Like Gilgamesh, the Aryans would always seek honor, glory, prestige and fame in battle…The Aryan rituals and mythology glorified ORGANIZED THEFT and VIOLENCE…”
King Nimrod’s end
After the fall of his Tower, King Nimrod lived many more years by himself, bereaved of any glory or power. Legend says that he was later assassinated by Isaac’s son Esau, who robbed him of his miraculous Dress. Esau, unlike Nimrod, used the Dress for real hunting and killing.
The implications for us
The crux of the story is that even a dream society, the envy of the UN, can pervert itself into a heartless organization/corporation that is financially successful, yet is deemed EVIL in YHVH eyes. The outcome of that path is told here in the story: returning to Babel and chaos.
END OF THEFT-4